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The best service to customers

Customer service – sitting at the core of everything we do, our strong focus on customer service has helped us deliver substantial improvements in recent years, becoming the most improved company in the 2010–15 regulatory period with a reduction of around 75 per cent in the overall number of customer complaints.

This year, we have seen another step change in our customer satisfaction performance. We achieved our highest ever scores against Ofwat's qualitative Service Incentive Mechanism (SIM) measure, finishing first in the final survey of the year and third for the year overall. This performance is mirrored in the number of complaints that we receive. These have reduced by over 34 per cent in two years and the number of repeat complaints have reduced by 63 per cent over the same period.

We have added to our already leading position on affordability and vulnerability. We are now supporting more than 50,000 customers in need of help through our Priority Services scheme, providing more targeted support for customers experiencing short or long-term personal or financial difficulties in their lives, with tailored assistance. In January we hosted the first ever North West Affordability summit, engaging with customers and key stakeholders with an interest in this topic.

We have an industry-leading digital capability informed by customers with more than 750,000 customers now registered for our online customer portal, My Account, and we have launched the sector's first truly integrated mobile app allowing customers to complete a variety of interactions with us using their preferred channel.

Improving customer service will continue to be a key area of focus, and we have identified a range of opportunities to deliver further benefits for customers.

Leading North West service provider – we are consistently ranked third out of 10 leading organisations in the North West, through an independent brand tracker survey which is undertaken quarterly. This covers key attributes such as reputation, trustworthiness and customer service. We are behind only Marks & Spencer and John Lewis, and ahead of seven other major organisations covering utilities, telecoms, media and banking services.

Robust water supply – our customers benefit from our robust water supply and demand balance, along with high levels of water supply reliability. Our overall water quality continues to be good, and although our water quality service index has slightly deteriorated compared with the prior year, it remains above our historical average and we have plans in place to deliver improved performance going forward. We have consistently delivered a reliable water service, although we have experienced some water no-supply incidents in the 2015–20 regulatory period. Whilst this is disappointing, our Systems Thinking approach is helping us to respond to these events and avoid them in future.

Reducing sewer flooding – we have continued to invest heavily in schemes, projects and programmes of work designed to reduce the risk of flooding of our customers' homes, including incidence-based targeting on areas more likely to experience flooding and defect identification through CCTV sewer surveys and other innovative technologies. Our plan for the 2015–20 regulatory period includes a target of reducing sewer flooding incidents by over 40 per cent, in line with customers' affordability preferences, and we are making good progress. We have achieved our best-ever five-year performance on our repeat flooding and internal operational flooding measures. Our wastewater network will continue to benefit from significant investment going forward and we will continue to seek to work in collaboration with other external lead flood authorities and associated partners to address the widespread flooding events that hit our region, as we aim to help mitigate changing weather patterns likely to result from climate change.

Key performance indicators:

Outcome delivery incentives (ODIs) – we have 19 wholesale financial ODIs and as was supported by customers, the risk is skewed to the downside with only 10 providing the potential to earn a reward in the 2015–20 regulatory period.

Our performance for 2017/18 has resulted in a £7.0 million net penalty. Overall, performance was again good against our wastewater measures but we recognise that there are still areas in which we can improve against our water measures, and we are committed to achieving this.

We are pleased with our cumulative performance over the first three years of the current regulatory period resulting in a net reward of £2.2 million, exceeding our initial expectations. Whilst a number of our ODI measures are susceptible to one-off events and, on the whole, our ODI targets get tougher each year, our strong performance to date coupled with continued targeted investment alongside our Systems Thinking and innovative approach to the way we operate, gives us confidence that we will achieve a cumulative net ODI outcome over the 2015–20 regulatory period in positive reward territory.

Our main areas of reward to date have come through our performance in the areas of private sewers, pollution and leakage, with our main penalty being on reliable water service and water quality service.

Service incentive mechanism (SIM) – we have previously stated our target was to move towards the upper quartile in the medium term, and we are particularly pleased with the progress we have made this year, ending the year as a leading company in our peer group.

Qualitative: Ofwat has undertaken the four surveys for 2017/18 and United Utilities has improved its score to 4.49 points, compared with 4.42 points in 2016/17, putting us in third position for the year out of the 18 water companies, and also third position out of the 10 companies providing both water and wastewater services. We ended the year with our highest ever score of 4.61 in wave 4, which placed us in first position in this wave for the sector overall. In particular, customers scored us highly for our billing and wastewater services.

Quantitative: the quantitative assessment measures customer contacts and performance is assessed on both an absolute and relative basis.  Whilst relative performance can only be assessed in full following the end of each financial year when the other companies publish their respective results, on absolute performance for 2017/18, our score of 71 points represents a marked improvement on our 2016/17 score of 77 points. For the first nine months of the year, of the companies that share data on quantitative SIM, we were first of the seven water and wastewater companies and fourth of the 11 water companies.